Fire-colored Beetle – Pedilus lugubris

Fire-colored Beetle – Pedilus lugubris
Family Pyrochroidae
. Pyrochroids derive chemical defense by stealing a blistering agent from beetles in the Family Meloidae   Beetles Index

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Fire-colored Beetle - Pedilus lugubris

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Male pyrochroid beetles are known to climb onto blister beetles and ingest the cantharidin exuded by the insect. Completely immune to the effects of the blistering agent, they use the chemical to attract females, who become the recipients of a cantharidin-laden sperm packet with which they coat their eggs.

There are also other insects that eat live or dead blister beetles to obtain the protective qualities of this chemical defense; these are all called cantharidinophilous, as in "cantharidin lover."  I assume they use the chemical in similar wise; passing it to their female cohorts. 

The poisonous substance cantharidin is stored in the insects' blood, it is very stable and remains toxic even in dead beetles. Animals may be poisoned by ingesting beetles while grazing or eating harvested silage. Horses are particularly susceptible to cantharidin poisoning. Externally, cantharidin causes severe skin inflammation and blisters.

In animals, cantharidin is absorbed through the intestine and can cause symptoms such as inflammation, colic, elevated temperature, depression, increased heart rate and respiration, dehydration, sweating, and diarrhea. There is frequent urination during the first 24 hours after ingestion, accompanied by inflammation of the urinary tract. This irritation may also result in secondary infection and bleeding.  Taken internally, as little as 10 milligrams can be fatal in humans.

The concentration of cantharidin in adult beetles depends primarily on the sex; males produce the chemical and only pass on small amounts to the females during mating. Cantharidin amounts also depend on species; the striped blister beetle has approximately five times more catharidin than the black variety. In one species, Méloé proscarabaeus, cantharidin makes up fully 1/4 of the insect's blood. [1] [2]

Fire-colored Beetle - Pedilus lugubris

Blister Beetle adults feed on leaves in the tops of a plant but are especially attracted to flowers where they feed on nectar and pollen.  These early spring beetles are feeding on a blackthorn sloe, a relative of the common cherry tree.

Female blister beetles lay clusters of eggs in the soil in late summer. The small, active larvae that hatch from these eggs crawl over the soil surface entering cracks in search for grasshopper egg pods. On finding a grasshopper eggmass, the larvae become immobile and spend the rest of their larval time as legless grubs. The next summer they pupate soon emerge as adults. Blister beetle populations follow closely the abundance of grasshoppers the year previous.


  1., Pedilus lugubris
  2. Professor E. David Morgan, Chemical Ecology Group, Lennard-Jones Laboratory School of Physical and Geographical Sciences, Keele University, Staffordshire U.K.
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Order Coleoptera: Beetles are the dominant form of life on earth: one of every five living species is a beetle. Coleoptera is the largest order in the animal kingdom, containing a third of all insect species. There are about 400,000 known species worldwide, ~30,000 of which live in North America.  Beetles live in nearly every habitat, and for every kind of food, there's probably a beetle species that eats it.
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